Despite losing starting senior David Pegg to a broken fibula in the first ten minutes of the game, Western Carolina’s men’s rugby team defeated Duke to win the conference championship for the second time in the past three years. In front of a large crowd, the rugby team dominated Duke in every facet of the game for the first seventy minutes.
The strength of the squad helped Western keep possession for most of the game and also gave Western their first tri. Caleb Bradish took an assist from roommate Jeff Whitmoyer to give Western a 5-0 lead at the end of the first half. Western Carolina was able to keep the momentum rolling by utilizing the speed and ability of their backs in the second half.
Marcus Johnson brought Duke’s outside backs to the ground after breaking open a forty yard run for a tri, that was only called back after a controversial call by the line judge. All-American Edwin Rios then increased WCU’s lead to ten points, however, when he picked the ball from a scrum and ran for the second tri of the game.
The ten-point cushion was increased once again after senior fly half Mike Williams creatively hooked up senior winger Jake Williamson with a pass, leading to a quick sprint by Jake for their third tri. Matt Carow nailed the points after to increase the score to 17-0.
With only ten minutes to go, Western began to ease up, and, consequently, Duke was able to take advantage and score two quick tris in a row.
Only being up by three points with little time left, WCU quickly recovered to hold Duke scoreless for the remainder of the second half to win the state championship. By winning the championship, the men’s rugby team will advance to the Final Four of the South in Myrtle Beach on March 23, playing an opponent yet to be determined.
The rugby team would like to thank all of their verbal supporters who came out to the games and cheered them all the way to state champions. They would also like everyone to keep their eyes open for upcoming rugby fundraisers, which will help ensure that they have enough funds to make it to Myrtle Beach for the Southern Championship.
Even though the season is in full swing, the rugby team is hopeful that individuals will continue to walk on to the team. More players are always welcomed and appreciated. Rugby practice is currently held Tuesday through Thursday 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the fields behind Reid Gym.